Enrich, expose, and expand are three components of the study abroad program offered at Anderson University. Traditionally, academic learning is done in the classroom with a teacher and textbooks. However, learning is not limited to a classroom. Most essential life lessons extend beyond the institution’s buildings. At AU the administration encourages students to break through classroom limitations and embrace the world that lies around them.
Senior Bible and religion major Liisa Kilmer has always been intrigued by travel. Wanting to experience an overseas trip, she found International Student Services. The International Student Association is an organization on campus that unites students from countries all over the world. By planning dinners and several international events each year, the ISA strives to make AU feel like home for its international students. Understanding the impact of international experience, the ISA encourages all AU students to travel to destinations outside of the United States. After looking into the program, Kilmer was very interested and immediately began looking into her credits and degree requirements.
Kilmer first scheduled a meeting with Shane Kirkpatrick, associate professor of religion and her academic mentor, to discuss the program’s credits and registration. The logistics of the trip were handled by her advisor, but Kilmer took the initiative when it came to planning and choosing the destination — Australia. “It was a great example of approaching education actively, not passively, and taking the initiative to make your education your own,” said Kirkpatrick.
Australia was not Kilmer’s first choice, but she based her decision on the curriculum rather than the destination. “Originally, I wanted to go somewhere in Asia, because I have always been fascinated with that culture,” said Kilmer. “Unfortunately they didn’t offer the programs I was looking for. Then I came across a Christian arts school in Australia that offered classes in graphic design, dance, drama, music, and theology. I have always been passionate about Christian worship as well as the arts. This program gave me an opportunity to tie the two together. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Australia and its coastal culture.”
Kilmer and 25 other American students met in Los Angeles, where they boarded a plane to Australia. When they first arrived, all of the students went on a scavenger hunt in the heart of Sydney. The students were divided into teams and ran throughout Sydney, searching for monuments and several other tourist attractions. While traveling home from the scavenger hunt, the American students encountered a disgruntled older man, who clearly wasn’t fond of the United States. “There is a really big gap between generations in Australia when it comes to attitudes toward Americans,” said Kilmer. “Younger Australians love Americans, but older Australians tend to be bitter and cynical toward us. The older generation watches America’s international affairs very closely. They may know more than we do.”
Kilmer was the only student from AU. The other students were from schools spread throughout the United States. For four months, Kilmer stayed with an Australian host family and attended school in Drummoyne, a suburb of Sydney. She and another American student shared a house with a family of five.
Embracing a new country and home, Kilmer was also exposed to life in a crowded household. “I grew up as an only child, so sharing a house with six people took some adjusting,” said Kilmer. “The schooling and grading systems are really different from ours too, so that was probably the hardest adjustment.”
Living with Australians not only taught her to adapt culturally, but challenged her religiously. “None of them were Christians, which created an unusual household dynamic, but made for stimulating conversation,” said Kilmer.
Studying abroad not only introduces students to a new culture, but allows students to see their own culture from others’ vantage points. Embracing a new culture, new friends, and new family would make anyone nervous. Kilmer is no exception. “Before I left, I was feeling restless,” said Kilmer. “For people who are afraid of traveling, I would recommend Australia. The culture is unlike any other, yet it’s not overwhelmingly different.”
Kilmer encourages students to take advantage of AU’s International Student Services. “I knew it would either satisfy my thirst for travel and get it out of my system, or it would just make me want to travel more, said Kilmer. “Now that I’m home, I can say it definitely did the latter.”
— Kristen Schaap is a senior from Chicago, Ill., majoring in communication arts. Schaap is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2011, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the eighth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.